Ecommerce Customer Journey Maps: The Only Guide You’ll Need [+Template]

It's 1840, and you're heading west in a covered wagon. For weeks, you've heard chatter along the trail about a new shortcut, believed to shave hundreds of miles off the journey. You're dubious of detours and decide to continue along the established route. Some of your fellow travelers, however, are swayed by the promise of efficiency and swerve into the unknown.

That was the problem with Hastings' Cutoff. Lansford Hastings, author of the now infamous overland guide, had never traveled the route. It looked great on paper—Hastings confidently promoted it at every fort, trading post and watering hole east of the Sierra Nevada. But he had no idea what the experience would entail—in this case, jagged canyons and perilous salt flats, including an 80-mile stretch with no water.

In fairness, present-day customer journeys aren't exactly comparable to the Oregon Trail. But they're still complex, especially in ecommerce, where shoppers frequently navigate a wide range of products across a dizzying combination of channels and touchpoints. That makes it especially critical—and challenging—for DTC brands to chart these experiences with customer journey maps.

In this trusty primer, we’re diving into customer journey mapping for ecommerce. You’ll learn:

  • 3 customer journey mapping challenges for ecommerce brands—and how to overcome them

  • Actionable insights to help you effectively understand ecommerce customer journeys

  • 5 steps to build a ecommerce customer journey map the right way

  • Our free, no-nonsense customer journey map template you can download and use right away

Let’s get started!

What is a customer journey map?

Customer journey maps are diagrams that visualize the steps customers follow leading up to a purchase or another desired action. These are typically organized around touchpoints—any moment a shopper interacts with your brand. For example, if they come across your product in an Amazon listing for the first time, that's a touchpoint. Other examples may include:

  • How they initially discovered your brand.

  • Actions they took leading up to purchase, like combing through reviews or browsing your return policy.

  • Post-purchase activities like cross-sells and repeat orders (i.e. subscriptions)

Mapping the complete process helps pinpoint what customers are trying to accomplish and how they get there. It’s also an excellent exercise to find opportunities to stand out from your competition and offer consistently outstanding experiences.

How customer journey maps work

“The customer journey starts with the first experience or exposure they have and ends with that last piece of communication you have with them (and really starts all over). You should be able to map out every instance or touchpoint a customer is exposed to your brand and/or store and see if they match up.” “The journey or map is a visual representation of what it looks like, and the customer experience (or CX, as you may see it referred to) is how that customer actually feels with that interaction.” —Melissa Robbins, product-based business consultant

Top 3 challenges with ecommerce customer journey maps

Effective customer journey mapping is easier said than done—especially if you’re juggling multiple SKUs and product lines. Common challenges for DTC brands:

1. Maps can oversimplify real customer journeys

Maps are built around the customer journey stages, from awareness to loyalty. For retail and ecommerce brands, these typically include:

  • Awareness: Customers first become aware of your brand, often by searching for a solution to a problem. They may also stumble on your site or social media accounts when searching for a particular product.

  • Consideration: In this stage, the customer seriously considers whether they want to buy from you and compares your products to other alternatives in the market. This can involve combing through reviews, evaluating social proof or posting in communities like Reddit.

  • Acquisition: The customer has decided in favor of your product and proceeded to make a purchase. This can happen at multiple digital touchpoints, from your website to social media.

  • Service: In this stage, the customer gets to “experience” your brand through the customer service you offer. For instance, they might want to return or replace a product or explore additional offerings.

  • Loyalty: Customers continue to engage with your brand by repeatedly purchasing your products. However, loyalty needs to be earned, over and over again. Brands continue to lose customers due to high shipping costs and price increases, lackluster digital experiences, and generally falling short of expectations. That’s why loyalty is an equally critical stage to measure and optimize as awareness.

Now, as much as we'd like to believe that customers go through a neat process, you’re probably well aware that's often not the case.

Think of a customer journey map as an amalgamation of touchpoints—rather than a tidy chart that fits into the traditional sales funnel. For example, let's say a customer buys a lamp from your website. Their journey might involve:

  • Searching for “white lamps” on Google

  • Landing on an affiliate website

  • Clicking the product link

  • Arriving on your lamp product page

  • Skimming the customer reviews

  • Adding the lamp to their cart

  • Forgetting about the lamp

  • Returning to purchase the lamp after seeing a sponsored post on Instagram three days later

"The reality is, when you think of a customer journey, it's understanding that customer in the context of their current point in time. If, at the moment that you think about a customer journey, you think it's linear or even cyclical, you are designing for something completely impossible to achieve because a customer journey is individual to every single customer."

Amanda Elam, Chief Marketing Officer, Bloomreach

How to fix it

It’s important to dig into the details and ensure your customer journey maps capture enough nuance to reflect your customer's experience. Go beyond journey stages and break it down by:

  • Types of touchpoints

  • Different channels

  • Consumer behavior

  • Funnel stage

  • Intent behind each action

  • Customer segments

Fleshing out these paths helps add context to your analysis and determine how particular touchpoints correlate with different stages of the customer journey. For example, a shopper who clicks on a retargeting ad will likely be more familiar with your brand than someone who followed a custom link from an influencer. This distinction is important to effectively optimize prioritization efforts.

2. Customer journey maps can bury you in data

On the flip side, customer journey maps can inundate you with a hot mess of data attempting to capture a vast range of touchpoints across several thousand (even millions) of customers, not to mention multiple segments and product inventories. .

Just look at Amazon’s customer journey map:

With so many variables, it's hard to understand how your customers actually experience these interactions with your brand, let alone understand motivations for their behavior. Sure, your Miro or Figma boards are "infinite"—but the sheer information load makes it immediately unusable.

How to fix it

Customer journey maps should help you make informed decisions, not bury you in data. More specifically, you should be able to:

  • Discover the different touchpoints your customers go through

  • Understand their emotions and motivations at each stage

  • Uncover points of friction across multiple channels—owned or not

  • Create a shared understanding of CX across internal teams

  • Determine which touchpoints need to be optimized and why

In order for your customer journey map to effectively enable these capabilities, it’s critical to clarify the purpose and objective from the start. Don't try to analyze everything at once—choose one type of journey map and focus on specific touchpoints.

For example, take a look at a more zoomed-in variation of Amazon's customer journey map and how much easier it is to read:

James Wilkinson, founder of Balance One Supplements, recommends custom journey maps for every product line or category to effectively chart differences in buying behavior and preferences between segments, as well as degrees of product complexity. He explains: “Our buyers within these product lines are quite divergent: the buying process varies.”

However, depending on the product line, customer journey maps can still be overwhelming, which is why it’s generally a good idea to stick with a particular type. You have a few options here, depending on what you’re trying to learn:

  • Current state journey map: This represents the existing customer experience, visualizing current steps a customer goes through when engaging with your brand. For example, if a customer buys a new handbag, a current state journey map will chart how they found it, what their evaluation process entailed, when they added it to their cart and any other interactions that occurred before they ultimately proceeded to checkout—for instance, browsing your embedded customer reviews on the product page or reviewing your return policies.
  • Future state journey map: This visualizes what you want the customer journey to look like — an “ideal” state shoppers would experience when interacting with your brand. Future state journey maps can be built around products you’re planning to launch or existing touchpoints you’d like to improve.
  • Day in the life journey map: This represents what shoppers do, think and feel on a typical day. Although this can include interactions with your brand or product, that’s not always the case. The main purpose is to gain a deeper understanding of customer behavior, pain points, motives and desired outcomes. Day in the life journey maps may include your customers’ favorite channels, social media accounts they follow, content they consume and general topics they care about. In addition to learning more about what your shoppers value, day in the life journey maps can also identify opportunities to naturally introduce your brand in a way that resonates—like partnering with specific influencers.

3. Customer journey maps often lack context

When customer journeys span so many channels, touchpoints, segments and product lines, they become more vulnerable to friction. Even worse, teams are often responsible for separate product lines and channels, without the necessary tools and systems to connect the dots between them.

This puts retail brands diametrically at odds with online shoppers, who experience their vast number of interactions as part of a single, ongoing experience. Traditional tech stacks, however, often slice and dice customer journey data across a variety of analytics tools, dashboards and reports, creating an artificial environment more aligned with a specific job function than real customer experiences. You can often see what is happening in your specific domain, but may not have the context to understand why.

Just take a look at technical events—page load events, HTTP requests, AJAX calls, and basically everything that happens behind the scenes when a shopper interacts with your website or app. There is a lot that can go wrong. In fact, Glassbox regularly captures 1,000 technical events in a single digital session. But for many organizations, this type of data is locked up in an APM solution built for engineers and developers, making it difficult for other teams to assess if and when technical glitches are causing friction in the customer journey.

These gaps are especially detrimental when you consider online shoppers’ exceptionally low tolerance for friction. In fact, Amazon found that 100-millisecond latency could cost it 1% in sales—and that was almost twenty years ago, when the smartphone era was a mere bebe (to quote Moira Rose). Here’s how much large ecommerce brands would stand to lose from every minute of downtime in present day, based on 2024 revenue metrics:

  • Amazon: $220,318.80

  • Best Buy: $11,647.20

  • Home Depot: $14,474.40

  • Lowe’s: $5,900.40

  • Target: $8,476.80

  • Walmart: $40,771.20

But how do you know if customers are abandoning their carts due to a technical error or some other source of friction, like too many form fields?

Traditional data silos can be a major hurdle in effective customer journey mapping because it’s almost impossible to determine which touchpoints are actually harming conversion rates. After all, re-engagement email won’t do the trick if the checkout button isn’t working. “Think of it like the butterfly effect. A specific error or struggle at any point can actually affect the entire experience,” says Yaron Gueta, CTO and co-founder at Glassbox.

How to fix it

Multiple data sources are critical for effective customer journey mapping—and this often means stepping outside your wheelhouse to get. Collaboration is key.—don't build your customer journey maps in a silo.

To pull this off, you’ll need two things:

1.) The right tools

For most ecommerce brands, the lack of data isn't a problem, but rather the inability to effectively share and use it to their advantage.

It’s difficult to get multiple teams on the same page when everyone is buried in their own tools and reports. Use customer journey mapping as an opportunity to establish a central source of truth.

Our teams frequently consult a common dashboard in Glassbox that captures and displays digital interactions and technical performance data, making it easier to diagnose sources of friction at different touchpoints. You can also use a simple spreadsheet, Google Doc, Word Doc or even our customer journey mapping template to consolidate information with other stakeholders.

2.) The right approach

Customer journey mapping is the perfect opportunity to improve cross-functional collaboration and data-sharing. Demonstrate the value of a more centralized and consolidated view of the customer journey by inviting different stakeholders to contribute 2-3 findings from their respective dashboards—a low-stakes exercise that won’t threaten or disrupt existing processes.

Creating a customer journey map for a particular segment can also help secure buy-in. Drilling into touchpoints in the awareness and consideration stages for a particular product line will get marketers excited, while a post-purchase journey map would be an invaluable resource to customer support teams. Yes, it’s more work up front, but it will also hopefully lay the foundation for easier and more collaborative journey mapping in the future.

🔥 Hot tip

Enhance your customer journey mapping process with session replays. “Some of our customers use session replay in Glassbox and hold what's called 'movie nights,' where they watch sessions together," says Multi Farkas, VP of Product Management. This simple yet powerful process boosts collaboration and helps generate contextual insights across multiple teams, so everyone has a deeper understanding of the customer journey.

How to create an ecommerce customer journey map [5 steps]

As we’ve already seen, a lot can go wrong with customer journey mapping—especially if you’re an ecommerce brand with bajillions of products, channels and segments to worry about. So how do you do it the right way?

1. Start with your why

Customer journey maps are more effective with a clearly defined purpose—for example, digging into post-purchase customer experience might make more sense as a focus area if you’re looking to improve product return rates rather than shopping cart abandonment rates. Good questions to ask yourself:

  • What is your main goal?

  • Which business objectives does this goal serve?

  • What resources do you need to map this particular journey?

  • What outcomes do you want to achieve with these insights?

These questions will help you narrow down a focus and determine which type of customer journey map makes the most sense to build. Take the time to clearly define your why and align your team around this shared vision. This allows you to build specific and measurable objectives around your mapping exercise.

2. Define behavior-based personas

You're not selling to a fictitious persona but real humans. Actions and behavior will tell you a lot more about the customer experience than surface-level demographics—specifically, what they’re trying to achieve at a particular stage . You can gather these insights using a combination of:

  • Short surveys with pointed questions

  • One-question surveys on owned channels (i.e. “Did you find what you were looking for?”)

  • Customer interviews to drill into desired outcomes or problems your shoppers are trying to solve

“We create our customer journey map by proactively reaching out to pickleball players and analyzing their behavior on our website,” says Peter Hoopis, founder and president of Hoopis Pickleball. “We ask them questions, look at what they click on and see where they drop off. This helps us understand what they need and want at each step of their shopping experience.”

Voice of the Customer (VoC) data—including satisfaction scores like CSAT and NPS—can be another valuable resource. However, it’s important to be aware of the limitations. Our internal analysis found that only 4% of your customers ever provide direct feedback about their digital experience with your product or brand.

The solution we’ve found is using AI to take these rated sessions from a small minority and automatically identify similar sessions across your entire user base. So let’s say 15% of your NPS survey respondents rated their checkout experience a 7 out of 10. Not bad. But if only 4% of customers provided feedback, that means this segment only represents around 0.6% of your total traffic.

Glassbox’s Voice of the Silent (VoS) feature leverages AI to generate a step-by-step record of every user action and technical event that took place during these sessions which shoppers ultimately rated a 7/10. VoS can then automatically identify similar sequences across every session that occurred within the same time frame, so you can essentially quantify how many customers had a comparable experience.

This gives you a far more accurate representation of both satsifaction and scope of friction, so you can more easily align your customer journey map to specific outcomes customers are trying to achieve.

These insights, combined with behavior-based segmentation, helps align your customer journey map to specific outcomes

🔥 Hot tip

You’ll likely need to consult multiple sources to get an accurate view of the customer journey, which can be a grind. If you’re using spreadsheets to organize your findings, create a tab where you can drop links to the original reports and note the date you accessed them. This extra step can decrease shuffling back and forth between dashboards or re-importing data. AI can also dramatically expedite data gathering. For example, Glassbox Insights Assistant (GIA) analyzes all your session data and surfaces insights on demand via a simple chatbot-style interface, so you don’t have to navigate dashboard filters.

3. Chart your customers’ actions from start to finish

Once you understand what your customers are actually trying to accomplish, it's time to start charting the steps they take to complete this process. Customers often take multiple actions at a single touchpoint. Make a list of everything they might do chronologically. For example, a first-time shopper unfamiliar with your products might:

  1. Search for a product category

  2. Add an item to the cart

  3. Browse similar items

  4. Search for product reviews

  5. Click on the checkout option

Beyond just listing touchpoints, customer journey maps should help you understand how these interactions actually influence the overall journey. Remember, customer behavior can change at each stage, depending on the quality of their experience and what type of friction they may encounter. Good things to note for each touchpoint:

The nature of your products can also have an impact—customers shopping for a low-priced item may have a significantly shorter journey than they would for higher-priced items like crockery or furniture. For longer journeys, you may notice re-engagement at specific touchpoints before your customers buy from you.

Good details to document:

  • Channels: Where is the touchpoint actually taking place? How did your customers get there?

  • Engagement type: What’s the nature of the interaction at this stage? For example, a customer shopping for more expensive items like crockery or furniture may have a significantly longer journey than someone just looking for laundry detergent—you may see re-engagement at multiple touchpoints before they make a purchase.

  • Frustration points: Did customers demonstrate any signs of struggle at this touch point? How can you tell? For example, if a new customer is forced to create an account before checking out, they might abandon their cart altogether.

  • Points of delight: These are moments in the customer journey that exceed expectations, create positive emotions, and leave a lasting impression. For example, if a customer is unexpectedly rewarded complimentary sample with a new purchase, it can foster brand affinity.

  • Customer feedback: Did customers leave any positive or negative feedback at this particular touchpoint?

You can flesh these out using our free customer journey mapping template.

Get the free ecommerce customer journey mapping template

You can also use Glassbox’s Journey Analytics (Augmented Journey Map™), which captures and consolidates data from millions of sessions into a neat dashboard to visualize potential conversion paths.

4. Map the customer journey for your ecommerce store

The next step is actually visualizing the touchpoints on your list. Use a flowchart or diagram to illustrate the different paths and key moments that occur.

A tool like Miro or Lucidchart works well for this, but it doesn’t need to be an elaborate diagram. On the contrary, keep things clean and simple to capture a high-level overview that will actually help inform your decisions instead of getting in the way.

For each stage, include key metrics like bounce rates or conversation rates. You can also note contextual insights or observations for stakeholders—for example, if a page with a high bounce rate is overloaded with products and subsequently takes longer to load.

5. Tighten leaky buckets in each touchpoint based on revenue impact

After plotting out your customer journey map, identify the leaky buckets—areas where customers are most likely to drop off (or have dropped off in the past). Then, prioritize improvements based on revenue impact.

You can use a customer intelligence tool to connect with your CRM or PoS platform and measure sources of friction by revenue impact. For example, let’s say 1,000 customers abandoned yourcheckout yesterday y due to an unexpected shipping fee—and the average order value was $25. So far, thisugly surprise for your customers has cost you $25,000. It will cost another $50,000 in two days if it’s left unresolved and affects sessions at a similar rate.

While revenue impact will help prioritize which issues to tackle first, it’s equally important to approach customer journey and conversion rate optimization efforts from the perspective of your shopper’s holistic customer experience.

“After you identify the business challenge that you are trying to solve, you should shift the focus on the user,” says Kelly Jura, VP of brand and user experience atScreenPal. “Shifting from business goals to user needs will help you anticipate and address challenges. I walk through the end-to-end experience (digital, physical and human) as this persona. While walking through the customer journey, I make note of questions like, ‘How do I...?’ ‘Where do I...?’ and ‘Why can’t I...?’ These are the questions I try to solve.”

Real ecommerce brands who understand their customers' journeys

Customer journey maps help you identify key points of friction, opportunities for improvement and gaps in your current conversion path. However, they’re most effective when part of a continual process rather than a one-and-done exercise.

Retail brands who are winning with highly differentiated customer experiences (CX) don’t just know how their customers behave. They also deeply understand what their customers need, want, value and are ultimately trying to accomplish.

Three of our favorite examples:

1. Chewy

Chewy is known for exceptional CX, and for good reason. Not every brand sends out 1,000 hand-painted portraits of their customers’ pets as surprise gifts each week. In 2022, however, the brand went viral when a customer shared a remarkable interaction: after her dog passed away, she attempted to return a bag of unopened dog food. Chewy granted a full refund, requested she donate the food to a shelter and sent her flowers with a handwritten note.

As moving as this was, it wasn’t a random act of kindness. It was the result of Chewy’s deep empathy and understanding of their customers’ ongoing experience with their brand—they had even considered interactions that might occur due to the heartbreaking loss of a pet. The tweet, which has since racked up close to 700K likes, prompted an outpouring of messages from customers recalling similar experiences. It turns out, Chewy has been sending sympathy flowers for years.

Between 2022-2023, Chewy’s profits grew by 20%, including a 15% increase in net sales per customer.

2. L’Oreal

Customer-centricity is often baked right into the organizational culture, but you realistically need a more tactical approach to deliver. L’Oreal, for example, noticed their customers were returning hair color and makeup products. Their expansive insight into the customer journey—specifically, their customers’ desired outcome—enabled them to identify the problem. In this case, customers were struggling to identify the right shade to compliment their hair color and complexion.

L’Oreal introduced a try-on tool, enabling customers to upload a photo and view how different products will look before purchasing. This significantly improved the customer experience, decreased returns and exchanges, and saved in logistic-related costs. The tool generated over 100 million digital “try-on” sessions in 2023 alone.

3. Sainsbury’s

Exceptional customer experiences require deep insight at every level—from what your customers are trying to accomplish all the way down to why they’re rage tapping a particular button. That can be a tall order for any brand—but what if you’re a giant?

Take Sainsbury’s, one of the largest chains in the United Kingdom. Expansive operations—including an online store, 40,000 products and 1,300 retail locations — meant equally complex customer journeys. What Sainsbury’s did here was create a streamlined, systemized approach to customer journey mapping, instead of treating it like a one and done exercise.

Their digital team leveraged Customer Journey Analytics in Glassbox to assess all the moving pieces. That’s how they discovered that nearly half the visitors dropping out of the funnel had all selected the same delivery option. It cost them $202,700 in lost revenue each quarter, but knowing this was an issue eventually helped them recuperate those costs. They didn't limit their analysis to the "what"—they took it one step further and dug into the "why" behind the behavior.

Sainsbury's Digital team used customer journey analysis to recover $200K in revenue per quarter

Back to you

While the customer journey mapping process takes time, its ROI is multifold. You gain a deep understanding of your customers and can offer an experience that consistently delights them. Remember, ecommerce giants like Amazon and eBay have already set the bar for seamless digital customer experiences—so you have little margin for error. Treat every touchpoint and opportunity to serve as the last touchpoint your customer might ever see.

Now what?

  • Build a data-rich customer journey map (And if you’re looking to make the process simpler, employ a customer intelligence platform like Glassbox to help you get there faster.)

  • Regularly review your journey maps and customer data to get ahead of market and consumer trends. Your customer journey map should evolve to reflect changing customer preferences, behaviors and expectations.

  • Use your customer journey mapping exercise to improve cross-functional collaboration—and make it a regular thing. This approach lets each team take ownership of different stages and build their own processes.

And lastly, have realistic expectations for your customer journey map. Customer journeys are complex and dynamic. It’s unrealistic to expect to understand every interaction right away, or deliver 100% frictionless experiences all the time. Instead, use this exercise to build a foundational, repeatable process to continually learn about your customers.